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Penal System

The penal system of both Israel and the occupied territories was administered by the Israel Prison Service, a branch of the Ministry of Interior independent of the Israel Police. It was headed by the commissioner of prisons. The prison system was originally set up in 1926 as part of the British Mandate police force. Many of the prisons still in use in 1988 were built in the 1930s by the British authorities. Outside the authority of the Prison Service were police lockups located in every major town and military detention centers in Israel and the occupied territories.

As of January 1, 1987, the Prison Service operated thirteen prisons and detention centers in Israel and eight penitentiaries in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Palestinians of the occupied territories serving sentences of more than five years were incarcerated in maximum security prisons within Israel. The prison population in Israel was 3,837 and in the occupied territories was 4,527. Neve Tirza, the sole facility for women, had ninety-seven inmates.

These totals did not include the sizable numbers of Palestinians who were being held in military detention centers. As of mid-1988 about half of the detainees were confined at Ketziot, a tent camp in the Negev Desert close to the Egyptian border, which held at least 2,500 prisoners. A large number of rock-throwing juveniles were held at Ansar 2, a camp in the Gaza Strip. As described in the Israeli press and by visiting human rights officials, tension among the detainees at Ketziot--many of them business and professional people--was high owing to petty humiliations, boredom, severe climatic conditions, overcrowding, and isolation. No radios, watches, or books were permitted. Punishment included periods of exposure to the fierce desert sun, but beatings and brutality were said to be rare.

Israeli prisons were chronically overcrowded; violence and abuse on the part of the staff were common. As of the early 1980s, an American specialist described the available occupational and rehabilitation facilities as only nominal. An investigative commission appointed by the Supreme Court reported in 1981 that "the condition of the prisons is so serious, subhuman, and on the verge of explosion that it calls for a revolutionary change in the way prisons are run." Conditions were especially bad in two of the four maximum security penitentiaries, Beersheba, the largest prison in Israel, and Ram Allah. At Beersheba the commission found severe lack of sanitation, drug smuggling, and close confinement with almost no opportunity for exercise. The commission recommended the demolition of the Ram Allah penitentiary as unfit for human habitation.

Palestinian and international human rights groups have complained of widespread and systematic mistreatment of Arab prisoners. Periodic hunger strikes have been undertaken by Palestinian prisoners demanding the same basic privileges as Jewish inmates.

A number of new prisons were completed during the early 1980s and, as of 1987, construction of a new prison hospital was underway, as were new wings at several existing prisons. The increased accommodation would, however, do little more than provide space for a rising prison population. During 1986 the total number of inmates had risen by 587 while new construction added 670 spaces in the prison system.

Supplementary courses to enable prisoners to complete elementary or secondary education were available and completed successfully by nearly 1,000 inmates in 1986. In some prisons, employment was available in small-scale enterprises operated by the prison service or by private entrepreneurs. About 2,700 prisoners were employed in some fashion. A total of 500 inmates participated in vocational training in 1986 in a variety of trades, including carpentry, bookbinding, printing, tailoring, and shoemaking.

Furloughs were granted for good behavior; 15,000 permits for home leave were issued in 1986. A temporary parole often was allowed non-security prisoners after serving one-third of their sentences. After completing two-thirds of their sentences, such prisoners could earn a permanent parole for good behavior. Although parole privileges were not extended to those convicted of security offenses, the president had the power to grant pardons and, on occasion, group amnesties were offered to security prisoners.

During 1986 about 40 percent of the prisoners in Israel were serving sentences for crimes against property and a further 19 percent for drug trafficking or possession. In the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, nearly 36 percent had been convicted of terrorist or hostile activity, although many others were serving sentences for related crimes, such as use of explosives and Molotov cocktails, armed infiltration, and endangering state security. Less than 6 percent had been convicted of property offenses.

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Among general studies on the IDF, one important work is The Israeli Army by Edward Luttwak and Dan Horowitz, which provides both a historical and a contemporary perspective up to the mid-1970s. Additional material can be found in Zeev Schiff's A History of the Israeli Army, 1874 to the Present, published in 1985, and Reuven Gal's A Portrait of the Israeli Soldier, published in 1986.

A vast amount of writing on the Israeli national security establishment resulted from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Perhaps the work with the greatest impact was Israel's Lebanon War by Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari. This highly critical account, with considerable detail on the personal interaction among leading political and military figures, caused an uproar when it was published in Israel. Flawed Victory, by Trevor N. Dupuy and Paul Martell, recounts Israel's military involvement in Lebanon over a somewhat longer period and provides a detached appraisal of the performance of the IDF.

The Middle East Military Balance, 1986, by Aharon Levran and Zeev Eytan, includes country-by-country analyses of the competing forces in the region. The study assesses the growing external security threat to Israel posed by the Arab military build-up between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s and the budget restrictions affecting the IDF beginning in 1984. The capabilities of the IDF vis--vis its Arab neighbors are also examined in briefer commentaries by Kenneth S. Brower and Drew Middleton.

Since limited data are available from official sources on the units, personnel strengths, and equipment of the IDF, much of the discussion in this chapter is based on estimates published in The Military Balance, 1987-1988, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Israel's links with many other countries in the form of military sales and training assistance are traced in Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why. A fuller, more scholarly treatment of the same subject is Israel's Global Reach: Arms Sales as Diplomacy by Aaron S. Kleiman. One chapter of Bernard Reich's The United States and Israel: Influence in the Special Relationship is devoted to the military aspects of cooperation between the two countries. Mordechai Gazit's article, "Israeli Military Procurement from the United States," provides additional details on the subject.

An overview of the first six months of the uprising that began in the occupied territories in December 1987 can be found in Don Peretz's "Intifadeh: The Palestinian Uprising" in the summer 1988 issue of Foreign Affairs. Israeli punishment and legal sanctions against the Arab population are assessed in the United States Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1988

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Israel Table of Contents